Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 16, 2020


Maxx Phillips, Center for Biological Diversity, (808) 284-0007,
Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation, (510) 541-0677,
Rafael Bergstrom, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, (808) 445-2085,

EPA: Waters Around Two Hawaii Beaches Impaired by Plastic Pollution

Feds Overrule State Officials, Order Hawaii to Protect Kamilo Beach, Tern Island

HONOLULU— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found the waters around Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach and Tern Island to be impaired by plastic pollution and ordered state officials to take corrective actions under the Clean Water Act. The decision overrules repeated attempts by Hawaii officials to deny evidence of plastic pollution harming bodies of water around the islands.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation sued the EPA in February for accepting Hawaii’s annual list of impaired waters, which ignored evidence of plastic pollution in 17 bodies of water submitted by the groups. In response, the EPA ordered Hawaii’s Department of Health to examine that evidence and submit a new list.

When Hawaii again failed to list the notoriously polluted Tern Island and Kamilo Beach (nicknamed Plastic Beach), EPA Regional Administrator John W. Busterud unilaterally decided to list them this week. He ordered Hawaii to include them in water-quality management plans to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on its waters, beaches and wildlife.

“Kamilo Beach is notorious for being covered in plastic, and this EPA finding will push state and federal agencies to face that reality,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “Ocean plastic pollution is a crisis here in Hawaii. It chokes wildlife and carries toxins onto our beaches and through our food web. Hawaii’s Department of Health is now being forced to finally address this threat.”

Plastic pollution in Hawaii ranges from microplastics that contaminate coastal waters and harm marine life to massive piles of plastic waste along Kamilo Beach. The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to designate as “impaired” all water bodies that fail to meet state water-quality standards. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution.

“We are encouraged that the EPA is taking steps to address plastic pollution in the ocean and on our beaches, as a major cause of water quality impairment,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation’s legal director. “Our Hawaii chapters and entire chapter network across the country are committed to addressing the plight of plastic pollution, including through the use of the full extent of our clean water laws, such as here.”

Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to Hawaii’s water quality and vulnerable marine ecosystems. Microplastics, or plastics that have broken into tiny pieces, are emerging as a major threat to marine wildlife and water quality. Microplastics can absorb environmental toxins and get eaten by fish and other marine life and eventually be consumed by humans.

“While we appreciate this monumental step with the listing of these two sites as impaired, there is immense work still to be done. Most of the waters and coastlines of Hawaii are plagued by marine debris and micro plastic, leaving them unquestionably impaired,” said Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. “Our Department of Health should be concerned about the severity of the issue and not evading responsibility. We must hold the fossil fuel industry and plastic producers responsible for this unnecessary damage.” 

Plastic pollution has been accumulating in the oceans for decades and is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050. Much of that plastic comes from Asian countries that process American plastic waste. But surveys have found a significant percentage of the plastics contaminating Hawaii’s waters originate within the state.

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Kamilo Beach, aka Plastic Beach, is impaired by plastic pollution. Images of plastic pollution in Hawaii available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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